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Dark Summit Package Art
†GENRE
††Extreme-Sports
†DEVELOPER
††Radical Entertainment
†PUBLISHER
††THQ
†NUMBER OF PLAYERS
††1-2
†CONNECTIVITY
††no
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Dark Summit

In a market glutted with similar snowboarding titles, THQ and Radical Entertainment are taking a chance. A daring new concept, Dark Summit attempts to redefine the snowboarding genre by incorporating mission-based gameplay set against a futuristic plotline.

The gameís story centers around peculiar happenings at the ski resort of Mount Garrick. An alien craft has crashed into the summit of the mountain, causing proprietor Chief OíLeary to shut it down. Government agents are installed at the facility, and the "strange lights" atop the slopes are blamed on snowboarders, natureís scapegoat. Naya, one of these snowboarders and the protagonist of this tale, joins a rebellious force dedicated to investigating the mystery behind the Dark Summit.

How does this multiplatform title compare to its only competition on the Gamecube, the reigning SSX Tricky? Can such an odd amalgamation of snowboarding, adventure, and exploration accomplish a Pikmin-esque feat of innovation, or does it try to do too much?

visuals

Whereas most snowboarding titles feature lush environments rich in brilliant color against pure powder, Dark Summitís approach is interesting considering itís the first of its breed to be intentionally ugly. All three versions of the game (Cube, PS2, Xbox) are nearly identical in appearance, with subtle differences in framerate and texture quality which should have been improved by the GCN appearanceís late release.

Mt. Garrick is an almost overwhelmingly vast environment divided into four main regions, each with its own slightly different graphical style. Naya slides down rocky slopes under a grey or green sky through courses far from the norm. Naked girders, pits of bubbling, neon ooze, wrecked vehicles, trash, and all other manners of detritus litter the runways, making them instantly distinguishable from the levels of SSX Tricky. There is occasionally a section of attractive, smooth blue snow or a distinct forest outline, but the river-muddy, blurry ground textures detract from the few serene moments.

The visuals are certainly decent for what they represent, featuring detailed terrain and object textures superior to those of the environment. The problem lies in that courses must be played through ad nauseum, and the unattractive approach to snowboarding will wear the nerves of many. However, Radical Entertainmentís effort does implement a few pleasing touches, such as drifting snow and little details like flapping flags.

The various game interfaces are similarly bland, yet not unpleasant. Dark Summitís framerate is consistent with infrequent drops, less jarring than SSXís occasionally chugging display. One of the more curious aspects of the design is the modeling of the protagonists. Dark Summitís "snowboarding beauty," around whom the game focuses, is the subject of controversy. Some gamers find her attractive, while others would sooner gaze upon a Gorgon. The other character models are equally dubious, sporting ill-shapen heads or drifting eyes. They are, however, more intricately detailed than those of some other snowboarding games, an element made evident through the use of cutscenes. On the whole, the graphics of Dark Summit are sufficiently representative of an anti-aesthetic direction.

audio

This titleís aural facets are no more polished than the visuals. The music of Dark Summit is one of its greatest shortcomings. Perhaps lifted straight from a Shockwave Flash cartoon, it is largely composed of a few short, repetitive selections looped endlessly. In a game with lengthy courses, this is a major impediment. Some of these sound similar to music from Goldeneye 007, and all but one or two remain on a level accomplished by the N64. Unimpressive would be an applicable euphemism.

More pleasing to the ear is the gameís extensive use of voice. Initial briefings all feature full narrative to accompany the text, and some of the in-stage challenges begin with the mission director speaking to Naya through her Nokia brand (the game makes quite a point of this) phone. Naya herself is full of quips, ranging from the slightly amusing to the painful, such as, "Your mother wears army boots!" Yes, army boots.

The protagonist can have conversations with fellow operatives in the field or enemy patrolmen, who each host his own library of phrases. An echoing reverb is added to distance shouts, granting an additional level of detail to the experience. Sound effects outside voice clips are the standard fare of crashes and other impacts.

gameplay

The adventures of Naya and co. flesh out a fairly rich gameplay experience. Mt. Garrick is a gargantuan arena of hazardous racing, with each serpentine stretch of the mountain leading seamlessly into the next. The clever level design conceals dozens of paths through each course, with branches to the gap-filled highlands or down into icy ravines. Ramps over toxic pits, heavy machinery, and other hazards are commonplace, and must be successfully navigated while fulfilling the mission objectives.

The Challenge Mode is what sets this game apart from other extreme sports titles. Forged ski lift passes are required to progress up the mountain, and to get these Naya must accomplish many tasks vital to her quest or other feats of skill. Dark Summit keeps track of 2 point systems, Lift Points and Equipment Points.

Lift Points are the more important of these, and those are garnered through success in missions. When Com Link Stations are reached, new objectives are given, which must be completed in a set amount of time. These may include acquiring a piece of a bomb, a rendezvous with an ally, or successful evasion of the ski patrol. One of the most distressing of these challenges is having to make it to an outhouse before... unpleasantness strikes the rider. Tasks irrelevant to the investigation, such as pulling off stunts, will still earn vital Lift Points. Once a certain level is reached, the next stage of the mountain is unlocked.

Equipment points are earned through style: wild tricks will soon reveal new outfits and upgraded snowboards. Cash emblems scattered throughout the ski runs add to these points.

The play control in Dark Summit is altogether unfulfilling compared to that of SSX. The physics of Nayaís flight down the slopes is odd; at first it seems more realistic than that of its competition, but gamers will soon realize that it behaves strangely. Tapping Y will make the rider "stick" to grinding rails like a magnet, and massive jumps can be made from sluggish velocities. The lack of a true sense of speed is a serious blight upon this game. As peculiar as the rider physics may be, that of the objects scattered on the course are spot-on. Nearly anything not nailed down can be crashed through, be it a barrel, sign, or even an exploding cow. Sending a dozen crisply textured barrels careening down the mountain, spinning faster and faster as they slide around banks and finally bowl over three oblivious skiers is truly a grand feeling.

The stunt system begins to make amends for the riding, though. Special tricks can be executed through just a few simple button presses, such as A, B, A, and new ones are easily acquired by finding special items on the mountain. Other aspects of the control are similar to SSX. The only true problem with the specials is the difficulty in gauging the height necessary to use them, making crashes annoyingly frequent among daring players.

Finally, the Challenge Mode is quite forgiving. At any time during or shortly after failing a challenge, players may choose to restart from the Com Link Station or abandon it entirely. All the loading times in Dark Summit are brief, less than five seconds. This certainly facilitates retrying a mission time after time, required for some of the more annoying tasks. The Challenge Mode is a decent combination of inventive premises and less impressive play control.

multiplayer

Dark Summit offers three different multiplayer games, each for only two competitors. Wrecking Ball mode challenges players to barrel down a course and knock over or destroy as many objects as possible. Race to the Bottom mode is just that: a swift race through the snow in which only speed, not style, matters. Finally, the Half Pipe Battle is just the opposite, where big air and stomach-churning tricks win the day.

overall

THQ and Radical Entertainment have allied to bring a bit of much-needed innovation to the market, but the result is a lukewarm concoction. Questionable control, average graphics, and shoddy music may disqualify this as a purchase for most gamers, but in the majority of respects itís a decent affair. Snowboarding, racing, or even some adventure fans will enjoy a rental, but there is not much cause to buy this over SSX Tricky.

final score 6.9/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Neil Aschliman
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"I'm your lover, I'm your zero. I'm the face in your dreams of glass."


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